I Served the King of England was the Claire’s choice for Savidge Reads’ and Kimbofo’s book group, but we all agreed that it wasn’t anything special. We were surprised that it featured on the Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read list, as we felt that it failed to provide anything particularly special or unique.
The book follows the life of Ditie, a short man with big ambitions. Beginning in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, we follow his career as makes his fortune working in hotels. His observations are both bizarre and mildly amusing, but I failed to see the point of them. Ditie’s life is then changed drastically when the communists come to power. I won’t spoil the last part of the book for you, but you can imagine that life during WWII will not be as light and amusing as the first half of the book. The weirdness continues, but it is shadowed with a darker, more threatening atmosphere.
The problem with the book was that it failed to engage me. I was laughing at it, rather than with it and scenes which should have been shocking, failed to affect me. The book just passed me by, without letting me become emotionally involved.
The ending annoyed me a lot. It came over as very preachy, over explaining the moral message that the author hoped to teach us in writing the book. It was the only time that the book had managed to evoke an emotion in me and I felt patronised and used.
Confused at why this book was so highly regarded I did a little bit of research and discovered that the film had been well received, so decided to order a copy.
The film turned out to be a lot better than the book. The order of everything was changed, so that the shocking war scenes were placed next to the light humour of life in the hotel. This meant that the power of each scene was enhanced. I immediately saw what the author had been trying the achieve, but also why he had failed. Some of the story line was changed (no baby + different ending, for example), but I thought these were all improvements to the story. I would place this in my top 50 films of all time (the book won’t get close!)
I highly recommend the DVD to anyone who likes to watch foreign language films., but the book is nothing special.